Take away a man’s beliefs, and he’ll find something new to believe in. For instance, it’s a wide-spread assumption that communism goes hand in hand with atheism; but just because good Soviet communists didn’t believe in God, it didn’t keep them from worshiping Lenin. When I was an exchange student in Leningrad, my Ukrainian roommate hung an icon-like picture of Lenin over my bed, possibly to ward off my evil capitalist spirits. I found a children’s book (which I should have, in retrospect, bought) in which Lenin faith-healed laborers; and I think I still have the Baby Lenin pin, complete with halo, I bought, as well as pins that could be translated as “Lenin lived, Lenin died, Long live Lenin!”
Likewise, religion is firmly banned in our public schools, but that doesn’t mean they’re not religious. Neil goes to an environmental science magnet school, but there is a frighteningly clear undercurrent of Gaia worship. In the first grade, Neil learned “the pledge of allegiance to the Earth;” ironically, that same year, the Supreme Court was deciding whether to take “and under God” out of the real Pledge of Allegiance. And for the past several years, I’ve gone to the schoolwide Earth Day presentation, which usually takes place in the morning. One year, several students came out as various animals: a deer, a slug, a turtle, a woodpecker, and snake and spoke about their habitats. A teacher came out as Mother Earth and all the “animals” knelt around her as she spoke about how important it was for man to stop destroying the world the wild animals lived in. I love nature, animals and my environment, but on a certain level, that made me uncomfortable.
But the whole month leading up to Earth Day (which didn’t even exist in my elementary school) is this way. Right now, posters are up all over school with various “facts” true or not, shaming the children into recycling more dilligently, reducing the amount of waste they produce, and finding reusable containers instead of disposable ones. The sentiments I agree with, the dogma I don’t. What’s the point in lecturing people to compost all their food scraps in a smelly, pest-attracting bin, particularly if they don’t garden and may not even have the room for a set of bins, much less a garden? Should my son become the American version of a Red Pioneer and report me for putting a diet Coke can in the garbage instead of the recycling, especially when our neighborhood’s creepy garbage-day scavenger is going to fish the diet Coke can out of whatever bin it’s in, and recycle it more efficiently than the city will anyway? The way it’s being done smacks of indoctrination, not education, and it’s far too self-righteous for my taste.
The parents, and most of the students, seem to take it with a grain of salt, which is probably the right approach to any religion. But you can’t convince me that our schools have embraced a separation of church and state: they’ve simply chosen a different church for the state.